The Art of Deconstruction

An acquaintance asked me the other day, “Paul, what do you even believe any more? Do you still believe in God? Are you even Christian?”

I’ve written a lot about therapy, pornography, purpose, and how race has affected my experience as a U.S. citizen. If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I’m often writing little blurbs about everything from toxic masculinity to finding your purpose. If we are connected on Facebook, you have probably noticed that I post almost exclusively about the harms of pornography which is a stark contrast from the Bible-verse-trigger-happy high school graduate from ten years ago.

There’s been a lot of trauma, a lot of work, a lot of wylin’ out, and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears that has led me to this point in time.

As much as I’d like to think that I’m so unique, I’m about 80% sure that my experiences, questions, and confusion are shared by many of you.

For those of you who would consider yourself 100% grounded in your faith and religion, I’d ask for grace, but also encourage you to hear me out as I try to explain where a lot of my doubts and cynicism originated from.

For those of you who are in the same boat, you aren’t alone, and I see you.

For those of you who don’t believe in God any more, you aren’t alone either and I see you too.

This is: the art of deconstruction.


Foundations:

To properly understand my journey, you should know that I was practically born into church. I was homeschooled until high school, took classes on theology, read the biographies of missionaries, and surrounded myself with friends who shared the same religious views.

I went to a Foursquare church in Van Nuys for the first thirteen years of my life. During my time there, I was encouraged and inspired by so many individuals who volunteered their time and resources to teach Sunday school. I remember fondly, this one black family taking the 11am slot to teach fourth grade sunday school and I especially remember them incentivizing memorizing a whole chapter of the Bible by giving an entire Little Ceasar’s Pizza to any kids who could. There was also teacher April who organized the Vacation Bible School and invited me to join the dance team as an elementary school teacher. I remember pastor Bob at Highway 56 sticking around later when my parents were late to picking me up. I remember pastor Brian at Rock Solid keeping us middle schoolers busy at the Jr. High summer internship.

Most of my memories are positive and most of them I cherish and remember fondly.

In high school, I started going to a new church in San Diego, and I remember pastors, Josh and Greg creating a safe space for us high schoolers. I remember Matt investing time and energy into making sure I was not just blindly following sermon talking points. I remember Frank treating me like an adult and not a project as he burned worship cds for me. I memorized scripture, listened to Christian Contemporary Music, and probably annoyed the living crap out of my non-Christian friends.

I’m pretty sure I broke up with a girl one time citing God as a reason..

I wrote entire posts on Tumblr devoted to my interpretation of scripture. My mother watched Fox News and I was convinced that being Christian was synonymous with being a Republican.

I knew the verses and the messages about grace and love, but I never stopped and listened to anyone who had a different life experience than I did.

I used to give mini-sermons at Christian club where I just copied the styles and themes that I had seen modeled for me in church.

If you are reading this, and we knew each other back then, this is my formal apology.

I am so sorry if you ever felt judged or shamed by the things that I said. Things that I, a flawed human, asserted that God said about you. Whether it was my blatant disregard for your emotions or my gaslighting and steamrolling of your worldviews, I am so sorry that I caused you pain.

In college, the cracks in my self righteousness began to show. I volunteered my time in my college fellowship, took calculated small steps of vulnerability in controlled situations, and pretended like everything was okay. My closeted addictions started coming out and by the time I graduated, I was full on tripping.


The Cynical Prodigal Son:

I remember going to Mexico City for the first time after I graduated from college and rationalizing to myself that my secret porn habit couldn’t actually be contributing to ruining the lives of real people.

Deep down, I knew I was lying to myself, and so I said that I cared about anti-trafficking efforts, but I quickly forgot everything I saw and experienced.

As I wrestled with my own sexuality and addictions, I became angry. I didn’t know what spurred the anger because I had never done the hard work of naming my emotions. I became frustrated and criticized the church for the needs I saw that it wasn’t addressing.

It was easier for me to blame the church for over-preaching about tithing and under-preaching about mental health and addictions because that meant that my problems weren’t my fault.

I stopped going to church, and lost the one thing I thought I’d always have: my integrity.

I was so confused.

For my whole life I knew that there was a “right” way to be a Christian. Christians didn’t sleep around, didn’t drink, didn’t do drugs, didn’t curse, voted yes on Prop 8, and volunteered as much time as possible at church.

But despite knowing that this was the “right” way to to do things, I knew that I was not actually adhering to the full letter of the law.

When I wasn’t at church I was cursing, experimenting, and let’s not forget, watching a SHIT ton of porn.

I felt like a fraud at church because I was.

Yeah, I had read the whole Bible.

Yes I had been to small groups and retreats.

Yes I had been on mission trips.

But there was this huge cognitive dissonance between who I was supposed to be and who I was.

After you attempt to quit porn after a church retreat for like the third time, you start asking some questions about whether or not something is wrong with you.


Toxic Church CULTure:

If you’ve gone to church, tell me if this sounds familiar:

The pastor talks about how everyone needs grace, and then some people at church look straight at you and when it’s time to pray for each other, nobody says jack shit about anything more than “work has been tough.”

At first, you think wow, everyone here has their shit together. I aspire to be this level of holy.

But as you spend more and more time there, you come to a shocking discovery: At ANY church, charismatic or conservative, expository or theme-based sermons, Hillsong worship songs or hymns, people are seriously fucked up.

Marriages are falling apart, addictions are out of control, mental health is a huge issue, volunteers are being abused, affairs are happening on the worship team, tithe money has gone missing, pastors are arguing and causing church splits, and it turns out, that some of the biggest assholes and abusers are churchgoers.

Then, depending on your level of self-awareness, you begin to realize that you are actually a part of the problem.

I remember realizing that I despised the fact that no one was talking about pornography, depression, and suicidal ideation in church. At one lunch with my mother, I asked her WHY the church was so silent on issues that I KNEW were relevant. She just sat with me and heard me out.

I kept criticizing and SLAMMING the church for what it wasn’t doing to make the world a better place. I thought it was ridiculous that churchgoers didn’t act like Jesus did in the New Testament, but it never occurred to me that perhaps I had a part to play in this.


A Perfect Storm:

In 2019, after about a year of therapy and processing my emotions, I realized that I had a lot of work to do on myself in order to not project all my baggage onto my friends, family, and significant other.

An incident, in which my pornography addiction wreaked even more havoc in my day to day life, led me to start aggressively targeting the root cause of my habit in therapy as well.

As I processed my emotions and sat with them for the first time in 25-26 years, I began to see the depth of my own pain and brokenness. And as my therapist validated me and told me that I wasn’t alone, I realized this fundamental need I had to be seen and heard.

It was as this was happening, that I realized that I had not felt seen or heard in really any of my circles except for a handful of scenarios.

My best friend, Imon who sat with me through all of the shit I had been processing even outside of the context of religious camaraderie.

My college pastor and friend, Abe who hugged me after I revealed that I didn’t think I could be a college small group leader because of my porn addiction.

My friend, Crystal who allowed me to sit in post travel and job hating depression because she too was experiencing it.

This concept of sitting with people as they were processing their emotions would end up being the missing piece that helped me tie together everything that I had been experiencing.

For the first time ever, I was allowing myself to be angry, sad, tired, cynical, happy, excited, depressed, worried, doubtful, anxious, heartbroken, worried, and a whole slew of other emotions without shaming myself into putting “faith in God.”

And while my Christian readers are waiting for the other shoe to drop as I say that therapy has led me away from God and into the ever waiting socialist arms of the far left, I have a surprise for you:

God showed up in my therapy sessions uninvited.

As I transitioned from talk therapy to EMDR therapy, my sessions began to tackle really traumatic memories in which I felt truly alone, violated, or damaged. And even though my therapist said nothing about God and I didn’t explicitly invite God into that space, He freaking showed up there in the middle of my deepest pain.

It was at this moment, that I realized the importance of being present during the painful seasons of those in our community. I think of Jesus mourning Lazarus, the disciples falling asleep as Jesus prays at Gethsemane, and the Holy Spirit descending in the upper room.

But hold up, I’m not done yet.


20 Fucking 20:

In the biggest plot twist of our modern day lives, 2020 came and screwed us all over. Whether you were a small business owner, a stay at home mom, a church goer, a food service worker, it really didn’t matter, we all were affected.

We had BLM in the streets protesting injustice. We had a freaking virus running crazy. Trump was re-running for office. Asians were being targeted in public.

I don’t even need to write you about this, you all ALREADY fucking know. 2020 was a cluster show.

It was at this critical point in history, that my faith in the church was shaken to its core.

While my faith in God was just recently reinvigorated, the marriage of christianity and politics that 2020 brought forth absolutely destroyed me.

One day, I’d be playing basketball at a park while being aggressively approached by a racist security guard only to hear from the pulpit that BLM wasn’t a Biblically founded movement. I’d grown up hearing about how Jesus spoke in parables where the heroes of the stories were marginalized immigrants, while my old church friends were lauding ICE and wall building as practically Christian endeavors. I’d learned as a child that loving your neighbor as yourself was second only to loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength, but then people were raving that masks and vaccines were inherently unchristian or worse yet the mark of the beast.

We were taught as children in Sunday school that we had a personal relationship with Jesus, but then all of a sudden, there was this HUGE push that God HAD to have us meet in person.

It was like everything was moving and changing and contradicting itself.

My heart sank as past mentors and pastors openly decried governmental mandates and went so far as to assert that being Christian meant defying laws designed to protect us. Nonchalant and cavalier comparisons to the persecution of Christians in other times and countries were liberally used by conservatives. AND THEN, just when things couldn’t get any worse, having views that weren’t as conservative became being anti-God.

All of a sudden the LITERAL depiction of loving your neighbor became rebranded as being socialist.

What?!


A Search For Doers:

As I sat with my dad at the breakfast table one morning in 2020, I shared with him how I was so discouraged and confused about my convictions on what the church should be. I asked him where the heroes were and who was actually doing what Jesus had commanded us to do in the Bible: loving God and loving people.

He didn’t have an answer, but he said that he would pray that I would find more of these heroes.

In the span of a year and a half, I was given the immense privilege of partnering with Fight the New Drug, my friend Calista referred me to join Clubhouse, I met Victoria on Clubhouse and was able to share my story on the Trafficked Truth podcast, and my friends Tina and Randy shared their story with me and hosted me on my longest stint in Mexico City yet.

In the face of the question: Where are the heroes who are doing Kingdom work, the answer came in the the form of El Pozo de Vida, 27Million, and new friends who have been doing Kingdom work in their respective areas of expertise.


Where I am:

It’s weird when you look back on the past few years and realize that the majority of the people who have been the best representations of God’s grace, acceptance, and character weren’t even churchgoers.

I have immense gratitude for my supportive family, my ride or die friends new and old, and for the organizations that have given me the privilege of partnering with them.

It’s interesting how I learned empathy, shameless acceptance, and recovery from sources that weren’t explicitly citing scripture or throwing “Kingdom principles” at me. All of these aforementioned traits are traits that the Bible teaches us that we should exhibit, and yet, as a Christian I admit, we have failed as a body to grow these character traits.

It might make some of you uncomfortable that I don’t quote scripture in my facebook posts every week anymore or that I curse when I write my blogs. It might be disconcerting to know that not all the organizations that I partner with have Jesus explicitly in their mission statements.

But that is just the point: I’m done playacting that I’ve got my shit together.

Never in my life, have I cared less about what people think about my motives or intentions, because I know what they are for one of the first times in my life.

I’d rather be congruent and consistent in who I am and who God has created me to be, than pretending to be someone who I am not.

It doesn’t help me or anyone else if I bury my struggles and pain and pretend that cliches and quotes are what can change lives and the world.

Our world is so fucking messed up, and we need to be on the frontlines addressing the needs, not just criticizing other doers from our high horses of self righteousness.

I honestly think that God created us to be innovative and creative in our problem solving approaches and part of that is trusting that God has given us the tools and gifts that we need to get the job done.

Maybe as a collective body, we as the church need to do a better job of leading with actions rather than words..

Maybe God isn’t so keen on our “defenses of the faith” on facebook so much as he is looking for our actions that display His love to those who need it.


Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a aman who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

James 1:19-27

Have we focused too much on the very last phrase, fixating on spotlessness, while disregarding everything that came before it?

Is the pinnacle of our lives as Christians arguing about vaccines and the mark of the beast or is it going and doing as Jesus commanded: loving God and loving others?

Welcome to the Club

Fairly recently I started speaking and writing about the less than glamorous parts of my life.

In our cancel culture, I believe this could be misconstrued as a sort of brash arrogance on speaking about my own shortcomings.

I was actually inspired, to begin peeling away the filters I put over myself on social media, by a lyric that Andy Mineo wrote.

In his track “Honest 2 God,” Andy pens the line:

“We post pictures of the party, but not the ones throwing up at the end”

A common theme in Andy’s work is the importance of authenticity and honesty in one’s day to day life.


As a young person growing up within the context of homeschooling and church, I always believed that I either had to have all my shit together or admit that I was a failure.

There was no space for mistakes, and character flaws were promptly punished and behavior modifications were constantly being applied.

I learned the “correct” things to say, the appropriate behavior to engage in, and the activities to avoid.

From the outside, I was mild mannered and well behaved. Internally though, and to those closest to me, I was a powder keg waiting to explode.


I had a conversation with Imon the other day about how we define trauma and how we can trace the effects of our past trauma to today. We spoke candidly about how some of us have “relatively” less traumatic lives.

It was in this conversation that I was reminded of a conversation that I had with Crystal. In that conversation, we were discussing how it is important for us to validate our own emotions and frustration as we process through our pain.

To anyone who goes to therapy, we know that self validation is the bread and butter that leads to growth and healing, but to an outsider, self-validation seems inherently selfish.

We play the comparison game and we sympathize and pity those with “greater” trauma.

In reality, self-validation does not exalt your struggles over the struggles of others. In fact, self-validation just gives you permission to feel how you feel and to heal what has been broken.

When we give ourselves permission to be angry, sad, hopeful, anxious, frustrated, excited, happy, etc., we acknowledge that we are human and that we are worthy of love and acceptance even amidst the less than glamorous facets of our personalities.


The last year has been a whirlwind of activity.

I went from thinking I was going to travel a whole bunch more and perhaps move to Mexico City to facing the harsh reality of the quarantine.

Despite the change of plan, the year was incredibly eventful.

From a random email response from Andy Mineo regarding perfectionism and creativity, to a surprise video project where I had to learn Adobe Premiere. There was also the random video interview I did with Fight the New Drug talking about my journey over the last few years. As I was dealing with the mental and emotional effects of detoxing from porn, I was in a class where I was learning how to get out of debt and save. I was hitting up friends to do “No Porn November” with me while learning how to cope in more sustainable and healthy ways. I was invited onto the Clubhouse app, and found other anti human trafficking advocates who I shared my story with and I got invited onto a podcast and was asked to share my experiences with a lady’s thirteen year old son.

On the flip side: I had a handful of mental breakdowns last year and relied heavily on Imon to take detox trips with me into nature to calm the heck down. I struggled with anxiety as the covid crisis rose to a fever pitch and AAPI were targeted and treated with aggression. I had several bouts of depression as the institution of church abused its power and asserted that man knew what God’s will was. I went on a porn bender after the quarantine initially started and I struggled to put the bottle of alcohol down.

Amidst all the amazing things that were happening, I felt trapped and stuck. I didn’t feel like I was moving the needle and I didn’t feel like I was where I was supposed to be.

So I did the only thing I really knew how to do and I just started writing about everything I was feeling.


I went from only talking about porn with my therapist and closest friends to blogging about it and then going full blast advocating against it.

An addiction that was a source of shame and guilt for years started dissolving once I began talking about it.

I started addressing depression, anxiety, doubt, frustration, therapy, and my various addictions and vices in my blogs.

The churchboy facade started fracturing and I became less compartamentalized. Strangely enough, as I questioned the motives and actions of the church, I felt God nudging me to continue to deconstruct further.

As I wrestled with the church’s inaction and silence on matters that I thought needed to be discussed, I felt led to speak into those areas where there was only deafening silence.

My friend Cheyenne in Mexico City encouraged me that “Our greatest weaknesses are often what God uses… our struggles give us authority”


Clubhouse is an app that allows users to basically host Ted Talks on any issue they desire.

Rooms range from discussions with Elon Musk, to mental health, and everything in between.

When I got on the app in February, I quickly was serendipitously connected with anti- human trafficking advocates, mental health advocates, creatives, and old friends in far off places.

The free form nature of the rooms I joined quickly revealed to me, that what I had believed to be unique stories and experiences for myself were in fact the stories and experiences of many.

Rarely have I felt so validated by complete strangers, but with little to no space to customize one’s profile, users were forced to simply rely on their stories and anecdotes to paint a picture of who they were. And for people who were looking to connect with organizations and individuals doing specific work in specific areas, Clubhouse provided a unique opportunity.


It was on this app that I met Victoria who runs a safehouse and a podcast for human trafficking survivors. As I shared my FTND interview experience and my desire to get more involved in the anti human trafficking and anti porn space, she was quick to validate and affirm me while thanking me for sharing. I distinctly remember her being a fiery advocate in her defense of survivors that were vulnerably sharing their experiences on Clubhouse. While some white and more privileged moderators steamrolled the stories of survivors, she made sure to affirm and give space to everyone who shared.

She was gracious enough to host me on her podcast and she is doing incredible work representing POC’s in the anti human trafficking space while also giving POC’s the space to share without taking advantage of their stories to push a hidden agenda.

Be sure to check out her podcast at this link and support her work if you feel led to do so!


In conclusion:

We often hide the ugliest parts of ourselves for fear of rejection.

When we hit rock bottom, often we feel alone and isolated and we believe the lie that we are the only ones to have gone through this.

Tobymac in his track “Stories,” models the song after a roundtable discussion in which people are sharing the shit they go through. One of the lines goes:

I’ve been there too

When everything falls apart and the best you can do is

Get through each day wonderin’ will this never end?

Is it always going to be this way?

And the greatest lie you’ve ever been told is that

You’re the only one to ever walk on this road

And that you’ll never see the light of dawn, so we came together to say

Hold on

Cause we’ve been there and found our way home

I promise you that you’re not on your own

One day this will pass, God will see us all through

God will see us all through, God will see us all pass through

What if the ugliest parts of your story need to see the light of day in order for you to heal?

And what if, your struggle and your pain and the isolation you felt when you went through hell was a nudge for you to provide encouragement to someone who is going through that now?

What if we posted not only the birthday parties, and the concerts, and the trip highlights?

What if we were honest about our trauma?

Our broken families.

Our broken hearts.

Our addictions that threaten to derail our lives.

Our doubts.

Our fears.

Our illnesses.

Our dysfunctionality.

Our brokenness.

What if when someone was honest about what was really going on in their lives we could answer with “I see you and I feel you. Welcome to the club”